Monday, August 16, 2010

Article: "Coping with crises close to someone else's heart"

There was a fascinating article in today's New York Times on a subject that is near & dear and very familar to many infertiles/bereaved parents -- how the people around us cope -- or, perhaps more accurately, don't cope -- with the crises we must live with, every day.

In recent years, the author has coped with with the serious illnesses of both her daughters, and then the illness & death of her mother. She writes:
For the most part, we were blessed with support and love; friends ran errands for us, delivered meals, sat in hospital waiting rooms, walked, talked and cried with us.

But a couple of friends disappeared entirely. During the year we spent in eating-disorder hell, they called once or twice but otherwise behaved as though we had been transported to Mongolia with no telephones or e-mail.

At first, I barely noticed; I was overwhelmed with getting through each day. As the year wore on, though, and life settled in to a new if unpleasant version of normal, I began to wonder what had happened. Given our preoccupation with our daughter’s recovery and my husband’s mother’s illness, we were no doubt lousy company. Maybe we’d somehow offended our friends. Or maybe they were just sick of the disasters that now consumed our lives; just because we were stuck with them didn’t mean our friends had to go there, too.

Even if they were completely fed up with us, though, they had to know that my husband and I were going through the toughest year of our lives. I would have understood their defection if our friendship had been less close; as it was, I couldn’t stop wondering what had happened.

In the wake of 9/11, two wars and the seemingly ever-rising tide of natural disasters, we’ve come to understand the various ways in which people cope with crisis when it happens to them. But psychologists are just beginning to explore the ways we respond to other people’s traumas.

“We all live in some degree of terror of bad things happening to us,” said Barbara M. Sourkes, associate professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “When you’re confronted by someone else’s horror, there’s a sense that it’s close to home."

After you've read the article, check out Tara Parker-Pope's Well blog for comments.


  1. GREAT post! Thanks for sharing the essay.

  2. I read this article and I have been guilty of trite consolations. Not so much with friends but with acquaintances. This is something I will change. I will now ask if there is something specific that I can do for someone and then I will actually do it.

  3. Great article, Loribeth ... thanks for sharing!